A University of British Columbia professor is leveraging the science of light and silicon to develop incredible technology: a credit-card-sized biological sensor able to collect chemical information from a sample, such as blood or saliva, and convert it into a signal that can be communicated.
The work of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Sudip Shekhar is so impressive that he recently became the first Canadian to receive the Schmidt Science Polymath award, a prestigious accolade which includes $3 million in funding over five years to further advance his technology.
“The Schmidt Science Polymath award is unique since it is meant to recognize prior path breaking successes in conducting multidisciplinary research,” explained Shekhar to UBC in June. “This recognition humbles me, and I am very excited to dream big and pursue research that could one day make significant changes to our society.”
A former Intel Labs research scientist, Shekhar is well-versed in multidisciplinary work, it’s small wonder he was drawn to silicon photonic systems, which “require an understanding of photonic devices and their interplay and cointegration with electronic circuits.”
Broadly speaking, he believes silicon photonics promise “entirely new applications in communications, computing, autonomous driving, and sensing.”
Alongside cofounder Lukas Chrostowski, Shekhar and his team at Dream Photonics are working ardently in some of those areas, such as sensing. They operate at “a junction of circuits and communication systems, photonics, physics, quantum mechanics, signal processing, computing, and machine learning.”
The ultimate device Dream Photonics currently wishes to procure is a highly portable bit of tech that anyone can carry and use to test for ailments from anywhere with a quick sample.
“While commercial-grade platforms today offer quantitative gold-standard tests for nucleic acid and protein biomarkers, they require centralized laboratory analysis, trained technicians, long time-to-result, and expensive equipment,” Shekhar explains. “On the other hand, current rapid, low-cost assays like lateral-flow strips tend to be qualitative and low-sensitivity.”
He wants to see biomarker testing become ubiquitous, which means it must “reliably give accurate, rapid, and cost-effective diagnoses in a user-friendly format.”
Based on current development, a market-ready version could be ready within the next few years.
Earlier this year, Shekhar earned the Killam Teaching Prize at UBC.